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Authors: McCoy, Matthew Stephen
Advisors: Mueller, Jan-Werner
Macedo, Stephen
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: democracy
false consciousness
Subjects: Political science
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation takes up a question with a long and vexed history in the tradition of Western political thought: why do people act against their own interests? In three essays, the dissertation explores the history and often ambiguous meaning of this question; evaluates and revises a canonical answer to the question offered by the Marxist theory of ideology; and shows why the prospect of citizens acting against their own interests poses a threat to democratic equality that democratic theorists must take seriously. Though each of these essays stands on its own, together they provide the cornerstones of a distinctive approach to thinking about how ignorance and irrationality can shape people’s political preferences in normatively troubling ways. The first essay addresses two foundational questions: what do we mean when we say that someone mistakes and/or acts against her own interests, and what sorts of evidence would be sufficient to justify that charge? Critics have argued that to charge people with mistaking and/or acting against their interests—to charge them with “false consciousness”—is to presume that one enjoys some sort of privileged knowledge of real human interests. I show that this argument fails. I distinguish two ideas of false consciousness and show that while each raises significant justificatory burdens, these burdens can be met without invoking untenable assumptions about the epistemic status of the observing theorist. The conceptual distinctions developed in the first essay lay the groundwork for the subsequent chapters of the dissertation. In the second essay, I show how a more fine-grained understanding of concept of false consciousness allows us to reevaluate long-standing debates about the explanatory adequacy of the Marxist theory of ideology. In the third essay, I argue that when failures of reasoning prevent some citizens from forming political preferences consistent with their own interests, it poses a threat to democratic equality understood either as the equal advancement of interests or as an equal right to meaningful influence over the political process. The dissertation concludes by discussing institutional reforms that have the potential to help citizens form preferences consistent with their own interests.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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